Is it considered kind to be charitable? Of course it is. But what if you’re giving away someone else’s money? Absolutely not. Even if you have that person’s permission, you’re not the one who should be praised for giving the money away. If that were the case, you might start to think that you’re actually more generous than the person to whom the money belongs.
Why do I bring this up on a website that is focused primarily on films? For two reasons: First, I am a passionate defender of individual liberty, and I want to show why socialism is neither virtuous nor a good system for distributing goods in a society. Second, I discovered a perfect analogy to show the fatal flaw of socialism in the 1985 comedy Fletch. It’s the best of both worlds for me. I get to talk about a movie I love in a way that exposes a serious problem that people are often blind to. So let’s learn about the dangers of socialism by joining Fletch’s lunch with the Underhills.
The Scene from Fletch
An investigative reporter named Fletch goes to the private Tennis Club to try to get information from Mrs. Stanwyk about her husband. While he’s looking for an opportunity to introduce himself to her, he overhears a patron named Mr. Underhill being rude to a waiter. When a staff member asks Fletch if he’s a member, he comes up with the idea to say he’s there as a guest of Mr. Underhill. He then proceeds to order an expensive lunch on Mr. Underhill’s tab to be delivered to Mrs. Stanwyk’s private residence. When the lunch is delivered, Fletch is so pleased he tells the two caterers to take generous tips – on Mr. Underhill’s account. Of course, when Mr. Underhill gets the bill, he’s outraged, and he runs to Mrs. Stanwyk’s home to demand to be repaid. Unfortunately, she’s having lunch with Fletch when he arrives, so Fletch tries to beat a hasty retreat through the window. The whole scene is played for laughs, but its implications are actually quite serious.
Let’s make one thing clear: Fletch is a thief. On the surface, everything he did seemed to be the work of a very generous man. But what he was actually doing was taking revenge on a man he doesn’t even know in a situation he doesn’t fully understand. Maybe Mr. Underhill is normally a nice man, but on that particular morning he found out a friend of his has cancer, or his son was in a car accident, or something else that threw him into a very depressed mood. And maybe he apologized privately to the waiter later for losing his temper, so the slight was quickly repaired and forgotten. Who is Fletch to judge him worthy of having his money stolen? Fletch doesn’t even pay to be a member of that Tennis Club. Mr. Underhill does.
Fletch’s blatant dishonesty and theft should not be mistaken for kindness. Does he really seem like the kind of man who would be generous with his own money? No. He’s always telling half-truths, taking advantage of people’s ignorance, and presenting himself as whatever he needs to be to fit the situation, even though he’s always in way over his head. Sound like anyone you’ve ever heard of in real life?
The Consequences of Fletch’s Actions
Fletch doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions so long as he gets what he wants. Let’s take a look at the likely results of what he did at the Tennis Club:
- In the end, Mrs. Stanwyk had to pay for all of Fletch’s expenses, so his attempted revenge didn’t even hit the mark he intended.
- The club staff would probably face severe penalties for allowing a non-member to pretend to be a guest of a member, possibly leading to terminations.
- Onerous security measures would probably be put in place to prevent such a crime from occurring again.
- The two caterers would have the tip removed from them and probably be reprimanded or even terminated.
- Mr. Underhill would probably leave the club and take some of his friends with him, hurting the club’s reputation.
Who was the only person who walked away scot-free from this situation? Fletch. There were no negative consequences for his actions. In fact, for some reason he quickly woos Mrs. Stanwyk and gets her to commit adultery. Her husband isn’t the nicest guy, but still, he’s her husband! Fletch has no concern for the people he hurts on his mission of self-gratification.
How does all of this relate to socialism? I’ll just change the names a little, and it should become clear. Mr. Underhill represents regular American citizens who pay taxes and provide value in the economy. The caterers represent citizens who are promised entitlements that cannot be paid for. Mrs. Stanwyk represents future generations of citizens who are being taken advantage of and don’t realize it until it’s too late and the bill comes due. And Fletch? He represents politicians who believe in socialism.
I know that politicians are different than Fletch in the fact that they are actually authorized by their constituents to act in their behalf. However, they are often elected through doublespeak and by promising things that they could never deliver without going over-budget or using other unsustainable tactics. They try to convince people that they deserve a government-guaranteed “safety net” and other services that the federal government never should have gotten involved in in the first place.
Who We Are
You and I are Mr. Underhill. We let other people go about their business and we just want to be allowed the same privilege. As Americans (or citizens of other free nations), we are part of an exclusive club that requires its members to pay dues and live by certain codes of conduct. Fletch comes into the club and proceeds to ruin several people’s lives. He spends other people’s money, promises rewards he can’t deliver, and smugly thinks he’s always right.
I don’t want to be misconstrued as saying that any U.S. politician is not an American citizen. I just want to note that politicians are often disconnected from the people they’re supposed to represent. They probably think they’re doing a lot of good by appropriating funds to this or that project in the area they represent, or spending money to solve other problems. But the problem is that they don’t stop and think if they should even be doing those things at all. Maybe they’re actually doing more harm than good. I’m sure Fletch didn’t intend to get anyone fired or cause all sorts of security issues at the Tennis Club, but his intentions don’t matter – only the results of his actions do. And those results are decidedly negative.
Why Socialism Fails
Socialism doesn’t work. It might sound nice to have the government (rather than individuals and private groups) take care of everyone’s needs and punish those greedy rich people for their success and make them pay their “fair share,” which is somehow a much larger percentage than for anyone else. But this setup inevitably leads to terrible consequences like a lack of motivation to succeed, increased dependence on the government, politicians essentially buying votes, and the loss of personal property and liberty. And it leads to bankruptcy. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher so eloquently noted, “The trouble with socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
The fact is that elected officials are spending more money than they are taking in, which is leading to more debt year after year. Eventually there will come a day of reckoning when people realize that the United States (and most other nations, by the way) are unable or unwilling to repay all of their loans. When everything fell apart for Fletch, he comically tried to escape through the window, only to be stopped (and forgiven) by the woman he had taken advantage of.
Everyone should be in the same boat no matter what title or office they hold. This would serve as a natural check on government size and spending. After all, no one would want to hurt themselves. But somewhere along the line, politicians decided they wouldn’t suffer the same consequences as everyone else from their legislative decisions. Their only thought was about holding onto power for another term. They believe there’s a window they can climb out of and escape what is coming. But I don’t think there is.
How will future generations look at us if we force them to pay for our prosperity? They’ll feel betrayed. All of our good intentions and pretended kindness will be revealed as simple greed. We wanted someone else to pay for our bad habits and then we proceeded to pat ourselves on the back for our “charity.” It is never right to take someone’s property and give it to someone else, even if it doesn’t seem fair for one person to have more than another. If we do that we become thieves, just like Fletch. And that’s no joke.